Office of Legislative Counsel says LAPD is wrong on impounds

Office of Legislative Counsel says LAPD is wrong on impounds

League asks Chief not to implement illegal policy

LOS ANGELES, February 13, 2012 - The California Office of Legislative Counsel today issued a legal opinion that a vehicle driven by a person who has never been issued a driver's license should be impounded for 30 days and not one day, as proposed by the LAPD. The opinion holds that law enforcement’s job is to initiate the criminal process, not determine the application of penalty or consequences to the violator, before initiation of enforcement action.

In a seven-page opinion provided to state Senator Bill Emmerson, the California Legislative Counsel opinion was very clear. Unlicensed driving is a crime in California and Vehicle Code Section 14602.6, which calls for vehicles to be impounded for up to 30 days, is part of the penalty structure the state legislature established for punishment of unlicensed driving.

“It is a 'long-standing principle of statutory construction [that] a special statute governs over a general,'” wrote William Chan, Deputy Legislative Counsel regarding the clarification as to which Vehicle Code authority should apply to which situation. “Hence, in regard to a vehicle driven by a person who has never been issues a driver’s license, it is our opinion that Section 14602.6 would control.” The legal opinion from the lawyers to the Legislature of the State of California is consistent with what the city attorney has been successfully arguing on behalf of the LAPD in federal court: The current impound policy and procedure is legal and justified.

The Legislative Counsel’s references to the findings of the legislature are instructive. They make it clear the 30-day hold was enacted to prevent damage to lives and property by unlicensed drivers. The legislature stated, “it is necessary and appropriate to take additional steps to prevent unlicensed drivers from driving, including the civil forfeiture of vehicles used by unlicensed drivers. The State has a critical interest in enforcing its traffic laws and in keeping unlicensed drivers from illegally driving. Seizing the vehicles used by unlicensed drivers serves a significant governmental and public interest, namely the protection of the health, safety and welfare of Californians from the harm of unlicensed drivers, who are involved in a disproportionate number of traffic incidents, and the avoidance of the associated destruction and damage to lives and property.”

In contrast, another part of the vehicle code allowing removal of vehicles, Vehicle Code § 22651(p), was enacted to allow officers to quickly remove vehicles from the streets; it was not intended to address unlicensed drivers but as the opinion clearly states, would be the appropriate section for drivers whose licenses had expired.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck stated a recent interview, “All of our procedures have been run through the city attorney’s office, their opinion is that what we are doing is absolutely legal, their opinion is that either section can apply, their opinion is that progressive penalty makes the most sense. I don't do things in a vacuum. I have not only met with the city attorney on this, I've met with the district attorney on this, I've met with community groups, I’ve met with immigration rights groups, I’ve met with our elected officials, discussed this with members of the media. You know, there has been a lot of discussion and a lot of thought and if I had any inkling that what we were doing was illegal or, or a hazard to the public, I wouldn’t do it.”

“With the release of the California Legislative Counsel opinion that the policy is illegal, we ask the Chief to stand by his words that if he had any inkling that what he was doing was illegal or a hazard to the public, that he would not do it,” said Tyler Izen, President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “The proposed policy change jeopardizes public safety and welfare, as well as the safety of our officers, exposes the City and its officers to liability and the modification directly conflicts with and undermines the official position taken by the City of Los Angeles,” added Izen.

Founded in 1913, the Office of Legislative Counsel is a nonpartisan public agency that drafts legislative proposals, prepares legal opinions, and provides other confidential legal services to the Legislature and others. The office also provides computer services, data networking, and related customer services to the Legislature. The Legislative Counsel of California is Diane F. Boyer-Vine.

Contact:Eric Rose (805) 624-0572 or Paul Haney (626) 755-4759

About the LAPPL: Formed in 1923, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) represents the more than 9,900 dedicated and professional sworn members of the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPPL serves to advance the interests of LAPD officers through legislative and legal advocacy, political action and education. The LAPPL can be found on the Web at www.LAPD.com.